College News & Analysis

College Football: The best player on every ACC team heading into the 2023 season

2JT482Y August 27, 2022: North Carolina freshman Drake Maye( 10) passes the ball against Florida A& M. NCAA football game between Florida A & M and the University of North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill, North Corolina David Beach/CSM

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The Atlantic Coast Conference is loaded with star power this season.

The conference boasts two of the top-three quarterbacks in the country, the best running back prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft, the best edge defender in the nation, the best linebacker in college football and multiple other superstars. 

Here’s a look at the star player for every ACC team heading into this season.

Boston College Eagles: OG Christian Mahogany

Mahogany missed the entire 2022 season due to a torn ACL that he suffered last May, but it’s what he did the prior year that makes him Boston College’s top player. In 2021, the redshirt sophomore was a second-team All-American for PFF and was one of only six Power Five guards who earned 80-plus grades both as a pass and run blocker. Mahogany was one of my top-10 interior offensive linemen in college football heading into this season.

Clemson Tigers: LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr.

Trotter isn’t just Clemson’s best player, he’s the best linebacker in college football. He was the only Power Five linebacker in 2022 who earned 80-plus grades both as a pass-rusher and in coverage. He was second among that same group in both passer rating allowed (42.9) and open target rate allowed (47.6%). The son of former All-Pro linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Sr., the junior is living up to his father’s name and then some.

Duke Blue Devils: OT Graham Barton

Barton is one of the five best offensive tackles in the country after a dominant junior season. In 2022, he was the only Power Five tackle who posted 85-plus grades both as a pass and run blocker. He finished the season with 17 big-time blocks (PFF’s highest-graded blocks), five more than any other FBS tackle. With another stellar season, he could end up as a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Florida State Seminoles: QB Jordan Travis

This one came down to Travis and Jared Verse, the best edge defender in college football and a projected top-10 pick in the 2024 draft. Ultimately, I went with the player that I believe will lead Florida State back to the College Football Playoff and win the Heisman Trophy in 2023. 

Travis led all Power Five quarterbacks with a 91.7 grade last season. He was the only quarterback who placed top-15 in the country in both big-time throw rate (7.1%) and turnover-worthy play rate (1.9%). 

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: S LaMiles Brooks

Brooks was named to PFF’s preseason All-ACC second-team, the only Yellow Jacket to make the list. Last season, he tied for second among Power Five safeties with 11 combined interceptions and forced incompletions. Brooks’ 86.8 coverage grade was ninth in that same group.

Louisville Cardinals: RB Jawhar Jordan

Last season, Jordan forced a missed tackle on 25% of his carries, third among ACC running backs. His 5.7 yards per carry also placed third in the conference. Jordan was named to PFF’s preseason All-ACC second team.

Miami (FL) Hurricanes: S Kamren Kinchens

Kinchens broke out in a major way as a sophomore, leading all FBS safeties in both overall grade (90.0) and coverage grade (90.7). His six interceptions were also tied for the most in the Power Five. He’s easily a top-three safety in the country heading into this season.

North Carolina Tar Heels: QB Drake Maye

After reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams, Maye is the best quarterback both in college football and in the 2024 NFL Draft. As a redshirt freshman last season, he was the most valuable player in college football according to PFF’s wins above average metric. His 45 big-time throws were 10 more than the next-closest FBS quarterback while his 899 rushing yards were third. Between Maye and Jordan Travis, the ACC has two of the three best quarterbacks in the country.

NC State Wolfpack: CB Aydan White

White tied for sixth among Power Five cornerbacks last season with four interceptions while his 46.8 passer rating allowed ranked third among ACC corners. He was named to PFF’s preseason All-ACC second team.

Pittsburgh Panthers: CB M.J. Devonshire

Devonshire’s three interceptions trailed only Aydan White among ACC cornerbacks in 2022. He only allowed 16.7% of his targets in man-coverage to be caught, tied for fifth among Power Five corners. Devonshire was named third-team preseason All-ACC by PFF. 

Syracuse Orange: WR Oronde Gadsden II

With running back Sean Tucker now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gadsden will be easily Syracuse’s top offensive weapon this season. He tied for eighth among Power Five wide receivers last year with 28 catches of 15-plus yards. Gadsden’s 966 receiving yards in 2022 are also the most among returning ACC wide receivers. His father, Oronde Gadsden, had 3,252 receiving yards during his six seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

Virginia Cavaliers: WR Malik Washington

Virginia’s best player is someone it added this offseason. Washington comes to Charlottesville via Northwestern, where he led the Wildcats with 701 receiving yards in 2022. He’s excellent after the catch, as he was third among Power Five receivers with 24 forced missed tackles and fifth in receiving yards after contact (217) last season.

Virginia Tech Hokies: WR Ali Jennings III

Like their in-state rival, Virginia Tech’s best player is a transfer wide receiver. Jennings comes from Old Dominion, where he was 11th among FBS receivers with 2,021 receiving yards since 2021. Last year, he was 13th in the country with 2.96 yards per route run.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons: CB Caelen Carson

Carson was named to PFF’s preseason All-ACC second-team and is a lockdown cornerback when left on an island. Last season while in single-coverage, he forced more incompletions (five) than he allowed receptions (four). Carson’s 77.3 grade in single-coverage was fourth among ACC corners. 

Bonus: Notre Dame Fighting Irish: OT Joe Alt

While not a member of any conference, half of Notre Dame’s 2023 schedule comes against the ACC, making them an honorary member of this list. 

Alt is the best offensive lineman in college football and could be a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Last season, the sophomore was both the highest-graded and most valuable offensive tackle in the country according to PFF’s wins above average metric. Alt led all FBS tackles with a 91.0 run-blocking grade while tying for fifth with a 99.0 pass-block efficiency score.

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